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Brenner, C. (1950). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXIX, 1948: A Contribution to the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt. Melanie Kein. Pp. 114–123.. Psychoanal Q., 19:607-609.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXIX, 1948: A Contribution to the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt. Melanie Kein. Pp. 114–123.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:607-609

International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXIX, 1948: A Contribution to the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt. Melanie Kein. Pp. 114–123.

Charles Brenner

The paper is divided into seven sections. The first is a brief summary of Freud's theory of anxiety. From it two conclusions are drawn which allegedly summarize Freud's views: '(a) in young children it is unsatisfied libidinal excitation which turns into anxiety; (b) the earliest content of anxiety is the infant's

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feeling of danger lest his need should not be satisfied because the mother is "absent"'.

The second section summarizes Freud's contribution to our understanding of guilt: it is 'the expression of the conflict of ambivalence, the eternal struggle between Eros and the destructive or death instinct', and arises from 'aggression which is changed into guilt, by being suppressed and made over to the superego'. Though the author believes that Freud's own statements 'would point to guilt arising at a very early stage of development', she reminds us that he nevertheless believed 'that guilt sets in as a sequel to the Oedipus complex'. In contrast, Abraham is quoted as connecting guilt with early cannibalistic desires.

In section three the author presents her view (contrasting it with that of Freud) that 'anxiety has its origin in the fear of death'. Klein bases her theory on analytic observations (of which only one illustration is given in the present article) and on the idea that 'if we assume the existence of a death instinct, we must also assume that in the deepest layers of the mind there is a response to this instinct in the form of fear of annihilation of life'.

Section four deals with 'persecutory anxiety' (the paranoid position) which is believed to be of paramount importance in the child's mental life in the first three months. The accompanying mental processes of introjection and projection of good and bad partial objects (breast and penis) are also described. The ideas in this section apparently represent no change from the author's previously expressed views.

Section five deals with 'depressive anxiety', guilt, and the 'reparative urge'—the characteristics of the previously hypothesized 'depressive position'. In the present article the first two are said to arise 'during the first three or four months of life', although at first they are less strong than persecutory anxiety and 'splitting processes'. Also, 'even during the next stage [three to six months of age], the depressive position, in which the more integrated ego introjects and establishes increasingly the whole person, persecutory anxiety persists'. Thus it seems the chief change in the author's theoretical formulations is in the direction of a less sharp (less schematic) differentiation of the paranoid and depressive positions. According to her new concept, both positions coexist, but there is a gradual increase in and eventual predominance of 'feelings of love for the object … over destructive impulses' which is 'an essential condition for the ego's capacity to integrate itself and to synthesize the contrasting aspects of the object'.

In section six there is a brief discussion of the relation between objective and neurotic anxiety. It is pointed out that both children and adults react to external danger situations in a way that is at least partly determined by their neurotic (inner) fears.

In the final section the author emphasizes the point that her views are based on her appreciation 'of the cardinal role of aggression in mental life', one of the results of which 'was the recognition of the major function of the reparative tendency, which is an expression of the life instinct in its struggle against the death instinct'. Her own contention is that 'the death instinct (destructive impulses) is the primary factor in the causation of anxiety'. However, 'it is … the interaction between aggression and libido—ultimately the fusion as well as the polarity between the two instincts—which causes anxiety and guilt'. Optimal adjustment 'implies that the anxiety arising from the perpetual activity of the

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death instinct, though never eliminated, is counteracted and kept at bay by the power of the life instinct'.

No adequate critical review of this paper could be made which did not lead into a consideration of the author's whole theory of early mental life, a task clearly beyond our present scope. Some points however may be made. First, in section one, the summary of Freud's views is both misleading and incorrect. It is incorrect in that in Inhibition, Symptom and Anxiety Freud expressly relinquished the earlier idea, which Klein still attributes to him, that 'unsatisfied libidinal excitation … turns into anxiety'. It is misleading in that Freud's main conclusions are simply neglected, namely, that anxiety arises either as a result of the ego's perception of (external or instinctual) impending danger, or when the individual is overwhelmed by an influx of stimuli which it can neither master nor discharge. Presumably Freud's position would be that in infancy anxiety has no content. One might add in passing that Freud's concept of psychic structure, which many analysts consider of great importance, is obviously of little significance in Klein's theories. Instead of structural conflicts, she seems to explain the phenomena of neurosis on the basis of conflict between the life and death instincts.

In section three the author's argument that the assumption of a death instinct logically requires a fear of death 'in the deepest layers of the mind' is simply bewildering. Must we then look for a fear of life, if we assume 'life instincts'?

The final paragraph in section seven also seems poorly reasoned, as the author herself seems to sense. It cannot be true both that 'the death instinct … is the primary factor in the causation of anxiety', and that 'it is … the interaction between aggression and libido … which causes anxiety and guilt'. Either one may conceivably be so, but hardly both. Moreover, if the latter is true, it is very hard to understand what the author means by saying that the fusion of the two instincts as well as the polarity between them is responsible for anxiety.

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Article Citation [Who Cited This?]

Brenner, C. (1950). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXIX, 1948. Psychoanal. Q., 19:607-609

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